Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Atlanta Braves Catcher Situation 2015

The Braves play their first real game on April 6th in Florida, and I haven't really allowed myself to get excited until this week. I feel that two weeks away is usually the proper amount of excitement and payoff when the event actually arrives. There's a modifier for football, simply because the heat of summer makes you want stuff more. So the formula goes something like (Anticipation / Days Remaining) x Heat Index = Sports Excitement.

Where was I? I get sidetracked by math all the time. Oh right, catchers. We had a ton going into spring training, and even I quipped that when pitchers and catchers reported for early training that would encompass half the squad. Well, we're one less catcher now since John Buck decided to retire today. Buck is my age, so the fact he's retiring from baseball really kicks in my "OLD MAN, YOU'RE OLD!" response. And I'm 33 which really just ticks off all the really old people in my office when I suggest stuff like that.

So with Buck gone we're actually down to only two catchers on the active roster. Christian Bethancourt and A.J. Pierzynski. I like both of these guys right of the bat because their names are difficult to spell. I will be referring to Bethancourt sometimes as "C-Beth" and to Pierzynski simply as "AJ" or "our catcher everybody hates." Seriously, ask around about AJ, he's not popular with other teams or his former team for that matter.

Here's an article that cuts to the issue with AJ. From that Yahoo Sports article, they were quoted as saying:
A microcosm of Pierzynski's approach was mentioned by more than one of the backstop's former teammates, who revealed his propensity to spend a significant amount of time looking at his phone while at his locker during games. In one instance, after a particularly rough outing in which the starting pitcher had been pulled early in the game, Pierzynski could be found staring at his phone while the pitcher gave off the appearance of being an emotional wreck just a few feet away. That incident paved the way for at least one complaint to management from a teammate.
Ok so what's my take from that incident? AJ is basically like anybody under the age of 20 that I've ever tried to have a conversation with. Mid-way through making eye contact they'll pick up their phone, answer a text, and make sure their town isn't getting attacked on Clash of Clans. I want to slug people that do that. But that's a crime, and I'm not going back to prison.

So while answering your phone and ignoring people is frankly obnoxious, it has absolutely nothing to do with how you play baseball, and it puts you on par with 90% of the populace I see at a restaurant. I mean The Artist Formerly Known As BJ is notorious for being a jerk, but if he was hitting 20+ homers a year and .240 nobody would give a damn. And nobody did for a long time, because that's what BJ was doing in Tampa. Talent lets you get away with being an aloof dude. But you have to back it up with results.

So far, AJ is backing it up. Plus he's 37 years old and seen it all at this point. He doesn't have to put up with people's drama-llama nonsense. AJ hit .251 with 12 doubles last year as a catcher. His power has obviously faded, but his ability to put bat on ball and call a good game is not in question. He's going to be the backup, so we need him to be a better version of Gerald Laird, and hopefully as good of a version as David Ross (though I'm not holding my breath there).

The starter is going to be C-Beth. Why? Because they've been grooming him seemingly forever, and because we traded away Evan Gattis. If you know anything, and I mean anything, about the minor leagues you've heard Christian's name before. He's been the supposed catcher-in-waiting answer since Brian McCann was still on the team.

C-Beth got some MLB spot time last season late in the year where he hit about .250 and didn't really show any power or eye for that matter. He only walked 3 times compared to 26 K's. He looked a little dazzled by the who call-up, which had several fans scratching their heads. What didn't have them worried was his defense. His caught stealing rate was 33%, which is very solid for any catcher in the league. If he can move that to 40% he might be an all-star defender.

But the issue that remains with Bethancourt is his bat. The good news is that over the last two years in AA and AAA ball, Christian managed to post OPS numbers over .700, and 10 homers a year on average. In spring this year, he's slugging .600 in 25 ABs. That's obviously too small a sample to really glean much from, other than the fact he's making good contact, seeing the ball well, and he's striking out less. Still, I really want the Braves hitting staff to work on his plate approach. He needs to get those walks up as a guy without a ton of power.

The depth chart for catcher looks pretty set now, which about four months ago was completely up in the air. I like both our catchers in terms of being able to do all the defensive things we need. The real test for them this year is, can they hit? I think Fredi will end up playing the hot hand a lot in a platoon, and make adjustments depending on who is swinging the big stick.


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